Thursday, January 19, 2012


                                                                        THE WANNSEE CONFERENCEWannsee photo
The Wannsee Conference was held on 20 January 1942, in a villa owned by the SS-Nordhav Foundation in the attractive Berlin lakeside suburb of Wannsee. It was presided over by SS-Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Security Police and Security Service. Heydrich summoned fourteen men representing the governmental and military branches most involved in implementing the practical aspects of the Final Solution. Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring had charged him with arranging all practical matters concerning the implementation of the Final Solution of the Jewish question.1 Heydrich was an ambitious and meticulous officer who relished the responsibility of power. One of Heydrich's foremost intentions was to make sure that all these men understood perfectly what duties and responsibilities their office was expected to fulfill.
In the years leading up to World War II, the phrase "Final Solution of the Jewish Problem" had taken on a series of increasingly ominous meanings in the Nazi vocabulary.2 The various implications had included voluntary emigration, confinement to ghettos in cities located along rail lines, forced removal to concentration camps, and finally, extermination. Heydrich wanted to be certain there was no confusion among the group that, now, the term referred specifically to the murder of all European Jews.
Heydrich's assistant, SS Lt-Colonel Adolf Eichmann tells us in testimony at his trial in 1961, that the meeting was relatively brief, lasting only an hour to an hour and a half, and that the atmosphere of the meeting was one of cooperation and agreement.3 These high-ranking members of the Nazi government met at mid-day over a buffet luncheon to discuss the annihilation of an entire people.
Those attending were:
  • Gauleiter Dr. Alfred Meyer and Reichamtsleiter (Chief Officer) Dr. Georg Leibrandt - Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories
  • State Secretary Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart - Reich Ministry of the Interior
  • State Secretary Dr. Erich Neumann - Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Four Year Plan
  • State Secretary Dr. Roland Freisler - Reich Justice Ministry
  • State Secretary Dr. Josef Bühler - Office of Governor General [Poland] representing Hans Frank
  • Under State Secretary Martin Luther - Foreign Office
  • SS Senior-Colonel Gerhard Klopfer - Party Chancellery representing Martin Bormann
  • Ministerial Director Friedrich Kritzinger - Reich Chancellery
  • SS Major-General Otto Hofmann - Race and Resettlement Main Office
  • SS Major-General Heinrich Müller - Reich Security Main Office
  • SS Lt-Colonel Adolf Eichmann - Reich Security Main Office
  • SS Senior-Colonel Dr. Eberhard Schöngarth - Commander of the Security Police and the SD in the General Government [Poland]
  • SS Major Dr. Rudolf Lange - Commander of Security Police and Security Service for General Commissariat Latvia, as Deputy of Commanding Officer of Security Police and Security Service for Reich Commissariat Ostland [Baltic States and White Russia] Security Police and Security Service. 4
Heydrich photo
We have access to the minutes of the meeting (Protocol, in German usage) only by chance. In 1947, the Protocol was discovered in the files of one of the attendees, Martin Luther of the Finance Ministry. Years later, Ministerial Director of the Reich Chancellery, Friedrich Kritzinger and Adolf Eichmann described in detail everything that had occurred at the Wannsee conference and acknowledged the criminal nature of the gathering.5
Heydrich began the meeting by establishing the primacy of his authority. This authority transcended geographical boundaries. He briefly described the recent history of Nazi action against the Jews. The goals had been to remove Jews from different sectors of German society and then from German soil. The Reich Central Office for Jewish Emigration had been established to facilitate and encourage Jewish emigration and through its offices, those who could afford it were allowed to leave the country. This process proved to be too slow and too limited in scope. At the time of this meeting, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had already stopped emigration.
The Führer had approved a new solution: the evacuation of the Jews to the East. The Protocol states, "These actions are nevertheless to be seen only as temporary relief but they are providing the practical experience that is of great significance for the coming final solution of the Jewish question."
Heydrich continues by enumerating the number of Jews in each country and observes, "Approximately eleven million Jews will be involved…" He further states in the Protocol, "In large, single-sex labor columns, Jews fit to work will work their way eastward constructing roads. Doubtless the large majority will be eliminated by natural causes. Any final remnant that survives will doubtless consist of the most resistant elements. They will have to be dealt with appropriately because otherwise, by natural selection, they would form the germ cell of a new Jewish revival." In other words, none would be allowed to survive.
Beginning with Germany proper and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Europe was to be cleared of Jews from west to east. This brought up a number of difficult questions to be resolved. First, who was a Jew? Would any Jews be exempt? Jewish Veterans who served Germany and were decorated in WWI? Jews married to Germans? Those of mixed blood (Mischlinge) married to Germans? Would sterilization be an alternative? Would those Jews be spared whose labor was necessary for the war effort? Nearly one third of the Protocol is devoted to these complicated matters, not all of which were resolved at this meeting.6
Eichmann tells us that the first part of the meeting was more or less a monologue by Heydrich and the last part, a summary of several positions put forward by individuals at the table.
  • SS-Gruppenführer Hofmann was in favor of sterilization instead of "evacuation" for half Jews (Mischlinge). Heydrich replied that a decision should be made on a case-by-case basis. He also spoke of an old people's ghetto, possibly Theresienstadt, to ward off anticipated interventions over individual cases.7
  • Stuckart of the Ministry of the Interior proposed compulsory divorce for Germans married to Jews.
  • Erich Neumann from the Four Year Plan organization said that Jews should not be removed from essential enterprises unless replacement labor could be provided. Heydrich agreed, pointing out that this was already the policy.
  • Josef Bühler from the General Gouvernment asked that the Final Solution begin in Poland, since there were no major transport or manpower problems. Bühler said the authorities from the General Gouvernment accepted Heydrich's primacy in all matters pertaining to the Jewish question and would support his work. He had but one request -- "that the Jewish question be solved as quickly as possible." 8
A number of those gathered at the conference table had already been actively engaged in the extermination of Jews and Bolsheviks since the summer of 1941. Lange and Schöngarth commanded Einsatzgruppen activities in the Riga District and in Polish Galicia. Heydrich and Müller directed the killing operations of the Einsatzgruppen and Müller forwarded the Einsatz "Incident Reports" [Ereignismeldungen] to the Foreign Office. Eichmann routinely received "Incident Reports" from the Einsatz Units describing the daily tallies of their victims, and had himself witnessed a mass shooting near Minsk.9
By the time of the Wannsee Conference, the Einsatzgruppen operating behind the army front lines, had murdered more than half a million people.10 Mass shootings were not suitable for European Jewry outside the war zone and were also demoralizing for the Nazi troops. This had prompted a search for a more impersonal way of killing large numbers of people. By January 1942, the death camps in Belzec and Chelmno, with their gassing facilities, were already under construction.
The Wannsee Conference was not called to decide the fate of European Jews but to clarify all points regarding their demise. In Eichmann's testimony after the war, he said that Heydrich also intended to implicate, that is, share the guilt with the ministries represented at the table. (The war in Russia had begun to turn against the Germans and for the first time, there was a question about whether or not Germany would win.)
A few days after the conference, each of the attendees received his own numbered copy of the Protocol prepared by Eichmann from shorthand notes. According to Eichmann, Heydrich proofread and polished the summary before he gave it his approval. We also know that the Protocol does not reflect everything that was discussed at the meeting, as Eichmann's words at his trial make clear:
Q. Who spoke of this topic?
A[nswer]. I no longer remember all the particulars today, Mr. President, but I know that the gentlemen sat around together and plotted together, and there they, in very direct words - not the words I had to use in the Protocol, but in very direct words - called things as they were, with no attempt to disguise them. I would be unable to remember these things if I did not know that, at the time, I said to myself: Look at Stuckart, who people always considered to be a very scrupulous and fastidious law and order man, and now his tone and all his formulations were very unlike the letter of the law. That's about the only thing that has really stayed in my memory.
Presiding judge: What did he say about this subject?
A. In particular, Mr. President, I would like ...
Q. Not in particular - in general!
A. Murder and elimination and annihilation were discussed

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As his 80th birthday approaches, a look at the life and legacy of the late Ray Charles.

"I just do what I do." That's what Ray Charles told Billboard in June 2002 when asked to assess his role in music history. Of course, Charles' self-effacing response belies a groundbreaking career and a legacy that endures today, as fans look toward celebrating what would have been the legendary artist's 80th birthday Sept. 23. Looking back at Charles' storied career, what comes to mind is the phrase "musical genius." In Charles' case, that's no hype.

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity

In 1954, the artist's melding of gospel and blues yielded the pioneering hit "I've Got a Woman"-and forged an indelible imprint on R&B, rock and pop. His earthy, soulful voice graced a steady stream of classics after "Woman," including "Drown in My Own Tears," "What'd I Say," "Hit the Road Jack," "Unchain My Heart," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Georgia on My Mind."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Hit The Road Jack" in São Paulo, Brazil on September 22, 1963.

Video below: Ray Charles performs "Then I'll Be Home" in Montreux, Switzerland on July 19, 1997.

Just as at home on the Hammond B-3 organ as he was on the piano, he also landed at the top of Billboard's R&B, pop, country and jazz charts-and even the dance chart, collaborating with childhood friend Quincy Jones and Chaka Khan on "I'll Be Good to You."

His final recording, 2004's "Genius Loves Company," made history when it won eight Grammy Awards, including album and record of the year for his pairing with Norah Jones on "Here We Go Again."

But what many may not know is that the inimitable Charles was also a genius when it came to the business side of music. In the early '60s he negotiated a rare feat after leaving Atlantic Records to sign with ABC-Paramount: ownership of his own master recordings. He also established his own labels. Tangerine (his favorite fruit) came first, which later evolved into CrossOver Records.

A songwriter who penned nearly 200 songs, Charles also operated his own publishing companies, Tangerine Music and Racer Music. For these entities, Charles and longtime manager Joe Adams designed and built the RPM International office and studios on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Ray Charles Memorial Library will open in the building this fall.

Charles also found time to manage the careers of other acts, including Billy Preston and '70s R&B group the Friends of Distinction. And way before it was de rigueur for artists to do, Charles set up what became a foundation to help needy children with hearing disabilities and later on support education.

He was an amazing human being," says Jones, 77, who became friends with Charles when both were scrappy teenagers in Seattle. "A true innovator who revolutionized music and the business of music," he adds. "Growing up, we only had the radio; no Michael Jackson, Diddy or Oprah. So it was hard to imagine today's entrepreneurial world. But that didn't stop us. We spent a lot of time talking and dreaming about things that brothers had never done before."

"He really was a genius," says singer Solomon Burke, a former Atlantic labelmate. "He did things the way he wanted."

Charles was born Ray Charles Robinson Sept. 23, 1930, in Albany, Ga. As many learned through actor Jamie Foxx's Academy Award-winning portrayal in the 2004 film "Ray," Charles became blind by age 7 and orphaned at 15 while growing up in northwest Florida.

In eight years at a state school for the blind, the young Charles learned how to read and write music. Leaving Florida in 1947, he headed for Seattle ("Choosing the farthest place he could find from Florida," Jones says), where he notched his first hit two years later as a member of the Maxin Trio, "Confession Blues."

Even then, Charles was an enterprising individual. "He had his own apartment, record player, two pairs of pimp shoes, and here I am still living at home," Jones recalls with a laugh. "His mother trained him not to be blind: no cane, no dogs, no cup. His scuffed-up shoes... that was his guide and driving force. He was the most independent dude I ever saw in my life. Ray would get blind only when pretty girls came around."

Signing with Atlantic Records in 1952, Charles as a West Coast jazz and blues man recorded such songs as "It Should've Been Me" and label co-founder Ahmet Ertegun's composition, "Mess Around."

Then he connected in 1954 with "I've Got a Woman," which set off a chain reaction of more hits capitalizing on his bold gospel/blues fusion. But Charles was just getting started. In 1958, he performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, accompanied by a band that featured such jazz cats as saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and Hank Crawford. Further bucking convention, he recorded "The Genius of Ray Charles," a 1959 release offering standards on one side (including "Come Rain or Come Shine") and big band numbers on the other, featuring members of Count Basie's orchestra and several arrangements by Jones.

Video below: Charles' 1966 Coke commercial, "So Tired."

Leaving Atlantic for ABC-Paramount, a fearless Charles recorded the seminal "Genius + Soul = Jazz" album in 1961. A year later, his earlier dabbling in country music grew serious with the release of the million-selling "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music."

Complemented by lush strings and a harmony-rich choir, he scored with covers of Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and Ted Daffan's "Born to Lose"-and spent 14 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

For a black man to do this in 1962 was unheard of," says Tony Gumina, president of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, which handles the late artist's licensing affairs. "He was trying to sell records to people who didn't want to drink from the same water fountain as him. But this was one of his greatest creative and business moves: to not be categorized musically and cross over. Though he never worried about it, he was resigned to the fact that he might lose some core fans. But he thought he'd gain far more in the process."

Gumina was operating his own promotion company working with state lotteries when he met Charles in 1999. The two teamed up on a series of commercials for various state lotteries and also introduced a line of Ray Charles slot machines also accessible to the blind.

"Everything he did had a business acumen to it," says Gumina, who cites Charles' liaison with manager Adams as a pivotal turning point. Originally hired to be Charles' stage announcer, former radio DJ Adams segued into overseeing production of the singer's shows, lighting and wardrobe.

Together the pair designed and built Charles' L.A. business base, RPM International (Recording, Publishing and Management) studio. When he began recording there in 1965, the label rented the studio from him, so he made money on his recordings before they were even released.

To save money on travel expenses, Charles purchased an airplane to ferry his band around to gigs. A smaller plane was also acquired so that Charles could wing in to, say, New York to record a couple of songs before flying back out in time for a show.

"He understood the entertainment business enough to know that you may not be popular forever," Gumina says, "and you need to maximize your product. At the same time, he had as much fun as any rock star but without the sad money stories. There was a time to work and a time to play, and he knew the difference. He didn't have a bunch of homes or a large entourage. That's why he was able to save $50 million before he died."

Calling Charles an "incredibly smart man," Concord president John Burk says he learned a lot from the ailing singer while he was recording his final studio album, "Genius Loves Company."

Video below: Ray Charles performs "It Ain't Easy Being Green" in Trentnton, NJ on Nov. 7, 2002.

Going through "some sticky deal points, he was amazing," Burk recalls. "He had the whole agreement in his head. Without referencing any material, he knew all the terms we proposed and had the deal done for the album in two discussions."

Creatively, Burk says Charles was an artist dedicated to delivering "a true performance from the heart. Part of his creative legacy was his approach to singing. He opened the door to vocal improvisations, changing how people perceived you could sing a song. Many singers today are influenced by him and they don't even know it."

Rare & Unseen Ray Charles Photos | Charles on the Charts

80th Birthday Year Events | Charles Charity


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